The Upsetter, Lee “Scratch” Perry has just released a new album, Back On The Controls, with Rolling Lion Studio’s Dan Boyle. The release is unique in that Mr. Boyle employs an audio setup that mirrors closely Mr. Perry’s own legendary studio the Black Ark, when it was in operation during the ’70s (see my previous post, written at the beginning of the project, on the concept of the project and its inception).
The release comes out as a double album and CD; 11 tracks along with their dub versions and a couple of dubplate specials.
It was funded as a successful kickstarter campaign and the songs were released to backers digitally. We review this remarkable new product which all reggae fans should appreciate immensely.
First of all, Dan Boyle (who owns and operates the Rolling Lion Studio) is an amazing audio engineer, with particular attention to detail and a crisp but heavy sound, carefully built up over the years to provide that essential Black Ark experience. In addition, Lee actually is mixing as well. Dan and Lee are credited with recording, engineering, mixing and producing - activities they spent many sessions on over the last couple of years.
The format is right on - CD1 has 6 tracks and dubs and CD2 has 5 tracks and dubs (plus 2 dubplates). The dubs all come right after their vocals which (we think) is the proper way to release reggae music - as opposed to all the vocals on one disk and the dubs on the other, or dubs just by themselves (unless they are dub concept albums).
The first track opens as one of the strongest tracks, with Lee Perry taking on Wall Street - relevant as always. It comes on a driving dub - we learn that Mr. Boyle plays bass along with Hughie Izachaar but it’s not clear exactly on which tracks. The first dub is a little like a subdued version - a tradition in Jamaican music. You can tell from this first track how powerful Mr. Perry can be with his signature opening words and lancing attacks on the Wall Street wolves.
The next track comes in with a sound similar to Adrian Sherwood’s Jungle rhythm and the dub to Pow Satan is one of the best on the album. You get hints of Mad Professor and Dub Syndicate integrated into an authentic Black Ark sound, combined with solid roots reggae played by real musicians.
Tug O’ War is another strong cut - the first 3 tracks bear some similarity but are not the same. The rhythms from this release appear to be all original and they also are not recycled exessively on the album, a typical indication of filler.
The next track is a very different zippy reggae number with cool vocals by Scratch and a catchy, lively dub version. Do the Dubstep really doesn’t actually sound like dubstep (which is good since it’s a reggae album).
One John Ganja (aka Lee Scratch Perry) tears it up on I Believe, where as always, Scratch has some outrageous lines, like our favorite “I believe in me, a crazy man”. It seems a definite nod to his mid-80s track I Am A Madman from the Battle of Armagideon album. This track stands out with its martial sound and crazy effects. You can really hear the Black Ark sound on the guitars, a kind of echoed, muffled plucking that I associate more with the early Black Ark sound and that often makes the hairs on my neck stand up when I hear it.
Finally, CD1 concludes with an astonishing reworking of the groundbreaking Blackboard Jungle Dub - it seems hard to tell whether some of this was taken from the original masters and blended in, or all original (we shall have to ask Dan!) What’s so much fun about this (and the CD2 recut of Words) is that Dan and Lee seem to weave seemlessly in and out of conformity to the original, breaking new ground - a nice touch and more interesting than a straight rework. By this time we’ve been up and dancing around, always a good sign for a release, and we move on to CD2
CD2 opens with another heavy cut, with the Upsetter referring repeatedly to the man with the cap, Daniel, which Mr. Boyle is likely to like a lot! This is one of our favorite tracks, although it again bears some similarity to the first tracks of CD1.
Repent is a decent cut that builds steam over time. On a bluesy skanking rhythm, the Upsetter exhorts people to drop the cigarette and take up Lambs Bread. This was one of the tracks where we ended up skanking out, jumping around and getting overall irie with the vibe and dubbed out Black Ark sound.
The next track, Land of Dub, is reminiscent of the Black Ark Almighty Dub era, with relentless bassline and piercing guitar licks. Copy This Copy That revisits an old theme with Scratch (recall Don’t Copy from the ska era almost 50 years ago). Come Up Scratch, like Repent, gradually builds up a musical vision out of an otherwise ordinary treatment.
Overall the album features solid roots rhythms, arrangements and mixing - with The Upsetter at his most ferocious, playful and let’s just say it - coherent! Superb spoken intros (e.g. “I Am the Upsetting Upsetter”) introduce most tracks, as fans of the Upsetter have come to expect. The dubs could be categorized as wild but they don’t feel like they are overdone.
It feels like this product is opening the door to a new era in roots reggae music. The album and the way it was released - with patient attention to detail and working on it until it was right lay the foundation. The past is littered with unfinished, partially released work by (and not authorised) Mr. Perry. This is not one such album. Also the Kickstarter campaign was a home run and Mr. Boye and Mr. Perry have made sure (with interaction from their supporters) that it gets a great release, including 180gm double-vinyl audiophile pressings. The bar has also been reset as far as creating great dubs to go with the vocal tracks - these are the primary ways in which the engineer and mixer express themselves in exploring a song and provide a deeper understanding of the song’s essence.
Second to last is an impeccable recut of the famous Upsetters/Gatherers tune Words of My Mouth, once again indistinguishable from the original - in places - wandering off into an almost jazz-like mood.
The album ends on a high note with the upbeat Lee’s Special, a floating dubplate instrumental with beautiful dreamy background female vocals, causing this veiled take on the Return of the Super ape era to leave us with a taste for more from the duo of dubmasters. It has all the elements of a masterpiece - killer spoken intro, gripping transition intro, groovy rhythm, ethereal vocals, sprinkled effects, guitars and then … silence. Our favorite track on the album.
As the Master and his protoge roll into history, as Lions, it’s too soon to start looking to the next project, but we wish the best for Dan and Lee and wait eagerly for our vinyl and CD packages … and news of their future plans.
This is the second part of Eight For Eight's recent interview with Dan Boyle of the Rolling Lion Studio. We continue our discussion of his recent work with Jamaican legend Lee Scratch Perry, “The Upsetter”. In Part II we talk to Dan about his latest productions, working in the studio with Scratch, and other topics of interest to Upsetter fans.
848: It’s common knowledge that Mr. Perry has been involved in many, many tracks (possibly as high as 10,000), as producer, vocalist and engineer, so there is a huge amount of material to select from. What are some of your personal favorites among his work, both obscure and popular?
DB: For me, the best stuff is the true roots sounding tunes. Everything from the Black Ark days is just outstanding music: Bird in hand, Blackboard Jungle amongst my favorites. Then his tunes for others: Max Romeo's music he did is by far among the best. I was recording Max in his house in Jamaica this year and he is incredibly humble about Lee - huge respect!
I love the fact that Scratch has re-invented himself and is touring again - he will tour forever! Whatever he does is amazing, he is LEE SCRATCH PERRY. His work with Dub syndicate is nice, but he himself said, he hasn’t done a true Black Ark style album for so long that he feels it is now time again to go back to the roots. The core of his sound. This is why this project is so exciting - Scratch is truly excited about it!
848: Will this project, which you are calling something like Scratch Back On The Controls, have traditional releases including CD, vinyl and remixes, and when roughly do you expect its official release?
DB: Traditional releases: special vinyl and CD. It should be fully complete early 2012, the last sessions in Jan and Feb. We may do a big festival this year and have Lee showcase it live on stage with all the new tunes!
848: Will this project involve other artists? We know, for example, that Max Romeo has been recording with you and want to know if he, or others, will be on the product; also do you know what the format will be like - e.g. showcase style with songs and dubs, a mix of vocals and dubs or like a split product of all songs followed by all dubs?
DB: It’s going to be a very, very special release. The format is Song, Horns/Flute cut and then a Scratch dub with Lee himself dubbing on the desk. Three cuts for each song so the “sounds” (sound systems) can enjoy it too!
We’ve been toying with the idea of Max and The Congos but its sounding so good with just Lee so that we may not use anyone else. Christine Miller, one of the best female harmony singers, is going to be on a few tunes doing some cool backings. Perhaps at a later date I will do cuts of the “riddims” with Max and the guys …
848: Will Scratch do any vocals or is he strictly at the mixing board and doing production?
DB: Scratch is doing vocals on every tune! Plus dubbing!!
848: Do you have a label associated with your studio? We know you’re looking to put this project out on a major label but, as in Jamaica, will there also be parallel releases on a “local” label?
DB: Probably released locally in the UK and licensed in the rest of the world, we’ll see; its not decided yet.
848: Do you have any fun things to share with us about your experience with Scratch - any stories or moments that stand out and made you laugh or wonder in amazement, or that were simply very interesting, that the readers might enjoy?
DB: Yeah Man!! Scratch just seems to create stories! I was at the desk mixing one of our tunes, Scratch was behind me and my buddy Nick Caro, who does photos was there also. I turned around and Scratch was gone! My studio opens out onto a long garden and I looked round the door and saw Lee at the end of the garden standing on my raised flower bed doing something to my Eucalyptus tree. I got close and he had a large nail in his hand and was scratching Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry in large letters into my tree!!! It has stayed as it was, really deep, so my tree has Scratch’s touch forever. Funny thing is, when he came back in, he hit one of the riddims, and if you listen carefully, he drops a Eucalyptus lyric in the intro!
Scratch is highly intelligent, but extremely creative and with that comes a level of eccentricity. One day I pick him up in a car and he’s feverishly writing lyrics in Scratch code on his laptop in the passenger seat. The next time I pick him up he jumps in and asks, ’’Have you been watching the XFactor? There are some cool artists on it man! I could produce them well!’’ And he probably could … he is Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
848: Are you and/or Scratch developing new rhythms for your project or will you be mostly reworking and/or remixing existing ones?
DB: All new riddims man, completely original - the one Blackboard Jungle cut is the only re-working, but that just had to go on the album. When we did it, it sounded raw!
848: What are your next steps in getting this project finished and how can we keep in sync with your progress? In particular will you be adding more previews to SoundCloud or some other website?
DB: A couple more sessions on vocals, then we will be finishing the mixing and dubbing. Some rough cuts are up on Soundcloud, just search Rolling Lion Studio. I will be leaking snipits on that page so keep an eye on it. Some of the cuts I will be putting on Soundcloud won’t be on the album but will be special Scratch and I versions we have done on the way!
848: Thank you Dan, for filling us in and keeping us up to date on this important project.
- The original interview was recorded by Kelly “Eight For Eight” Maurice & Dan Boyle, Nov. 26, 2011. Part I of the interview was published in this blog on Jan. 23, 2012
Eight For Eight recently interviewed Dan Boyle of the Rolling Lion Studio in the UK, about his current project with reggae Jamaican legend Lee Scratch Perry, “The Upsetter”. The following is the first of two parts where we ask Dan about his work, his time in the studio with Scratch and his latest projects.
848: First of all, many thanks Dan, for involving Eight For Eight in promoting this wonderful new project you have going with Lee Perry. We’re delighted to be able to find out all we can about it and spread the word that it’s happening to as many Upsetter fans and potential fans as we can.
So, for some background, how long has the Rolling Lion Studio been operating and what is its history as a recording studio?
DB: I began my music career as an engineer in a commercial studio, engineering and producing all music from Rock and Punk to Opera. I did this for many years, but had always been a Roots fan at heart. Running First Light sound system on the weekends I began building the Rolling Lion Studio.
I have been collecting vintage equipment used by the old time reggae greats, such as King Tubbys Spacexpander Fisher Valve reverb, used for that classic splashing sound, and Lee Perry’s Mu-Tron Bi-Phase, the same unit that made Scratch’s phasing sound.
Alongside many outboard units, I recently chose to replace my 70’s desk with a more modern board. I purchased a Malcolm Toft ATB 24 Track desk, designed and made by Malcolm Toft who designed the British Trident desks in the 70’s and 80’s. The sound this Board has is warm, big, vintage but clean, as its new. This combination has served me well, enabling me to produce new, clean sounding roots music with all the vintage effects.
I’ve been working with artists like Max Romeo and Lee Perry, both in my London Studio and in Jamaica when I’m there.
848: Have you released any (dub/reggae) products officially at the studio and on what media?
DB: To be honest, for the last 5 or 6 years I have been producing and working with artists for the love, giving my music to sound systems and working for others, mixing and producing.
I signed to Dubmatix Label Renegade Recordings this year to release two Albums, one a pure dub album called ‘House of Dread’ (on Itunes Amazon and other good download sites, under Rolling Lion Studio – House of Dread) and a forthcoming vocal album on the same riddims that features artists like Max Romeo, Winston McAnuff, Tony Roots, Danny Red and others.
It is whilst I have been finishing this album, that Scratch and I hooked up for this new project!
848: How did this new project with Scratch come into being and did it involve reconstructing the Black Ark or did this idea come later?
DB: I have been a major fan of Perry since I was young. Burning Spear educated me in the ways of Rastafari through his music, and Scratch educated me in the art of Roots music, dubbing, experimenting, mixing. I had been listening to his music for many many years and he is the one responsible for me getting behind a mixing desk and beginning to produce. If I had not heard Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, I would not be making music today.
Adrian Sherwood hooked me up with a link a few years ago, and I tried to make it happen, but I was working a lot and didn’t persue it in the way I should have. Now, I re-built my studio and began collecting all the equipment Scratch used to have and as a result began making riddims that sounded very Upsetter like! Scratch has a magical habit of appearing at the right time, and I received a mail out of the blue one day this year. He had decided he was keen to do a song together and we linked.
He came to the studio for a whole day and we did a few songs with him on the mike, the song Repent from the album was done in this session. We had an awesome time, lots of bass, effects and smoke in the studio. Scratch left the UK the next day and I thought that would be that last time we worked together, as I was so lucky for it to happen in the first place.
I received another mail a few weeks later from Scratch. He loved the set up, the sound and the vibes at the Rolling Lion Studio and asked me if I could produce a new album with THAT sound, the Black Ark feel that the song Repent had, that we did on the first session. Of course I agreed!
I began putting more riddims together with some of Europe’s top reggae artists and I began conducting more sessions at my studio with Scratch. I talked for a long time with Scratch and Mireille (his wife) about how we should do it to make sure it retained Scratch’s magic touch. We decided that we would build the riddims, and set the studio up as close to the Black Ark as we could, and then once Scratch had completed the vocals we would mix it proper Scratch style, live, on the desk and with Scratch himself mashing up the effects and aux sends. And boy it sounds big!!
848: Tell us about the Mighty Roots Players?
DB: I work closely with Hughie Izachaar. He is without a doubt, one of the best reggae players in the world right now; he has played with Dub Syndicate, Conscious Sounds/Bush Chemists, Reggae on Top, and many others. He is a true talent and an amazing singer too. In fact, Hughie was the first singer I ever worked with. Funny enough, the first 2 tunes we did are being released for the first time ever, on Roots Youths Records soon.
Then there is Hornsman Coyote, a true horns talent who has played with pretty much everybody from Burning Spear to Scratch. Rico Rodriguez is also keen on putting a little touch on some of the tunes. There are also a few secret players who have added special little bits on the riddims.
848: Perry’s legendary studio, the Black Ark, had various incarnations of equipment installed over its period of operation, around 1974-1980. The later setup had more channels and more advanced features, while the initial setup (put together by Errol “E.T.” Thompson) was somewhat primitive. Which version have you put together at Rolling Lion?
DB: You’ve seen the video on YouTube of the Junior Murvin session where Scratch has the Soundcraft desk and is mashing up the Mutron Bi-Phase on the left of the desk? That one! Dubmatix has the original desk in that vid - we were going to use that as well but decided on keeping the Toft, as it provided a more flexible set up for plugging outboard in, space echo, Grampian and the bi-phase. Lee’s signature sound needs these 3 bits of kit. We are not looking to exactly recreate but are looking to have Scratch doing his thing with his old toys, but with a feel that is current to today. Clean, big bassy tunes. This is Lee Scratch Perry at his best inna year 3000 style!
848: We notice that one of your sample tracks at SoundCloud has some original Black Ark recordings built into the mix (e.g. Blackboard Jungle Dub). Are you going to do this with some of the other tracks and if so, which tracks are you considering?
DB: That’s the only one. A little special, we re-played the whole thing. We took a couple of samples just of the horns and effects, and layered them over the new recordings. Bass is new. It uses the original riff in parts but drops in an off time steppers bass - it tears on a sound system! New drums also. The remaining tunes are brand new, unheard Scratch style, pure roots music …
848: With your new project, you’ve rebuilt the equipment from the Black Ark and have Scratch involved with the mixing and production. But what kind of music will you be creating - strictly old school roots or will you be adding certain elements of some of the modern musical styles, for example dubstep?
DB: Strictly ROOTS AND CULTURE! This is old time tough - tough riddims. The idea is, they could be straight out of the Ark, and with Scratch on the controls it’s sounding like it. There will be NO dubstep anywhere near this album.
848: Tell us what it was like to actually work with The Upsetter behind the mixing desk. Was it difficult to stay focused on the task at hand, while at the same time appreciating the significance of the reality of actually being there and working with this reggae & dub living legend?
DB: AMAZING!! And its still going! I have another two day long session in Jan 2012 with him back in my studio. For the first session we did, Scratch was on the mic within the first hour of being in my studio, with me on the desk. He stopped dead in the middle of the song, looked at me and said, “Take the treble down on the horns man! And cut a bit a’ bass on my vocals!” I froze. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry was in my studio giving me direction on how to eq my tracks on the desk. AMAZING! I did so immediately, and those settings are still on the desk for that tune.
As that session went on it was like a dream come true - Scratch loosened up and we gelled well in the studio, Scratch asking for changes in the mix and me executing them. I saved the lot. Even one of my cats got tickles from Lee Perry and Scratch sang about him in one of the tunes. As the sessions have gone on, we got to a good way of working. I know what he wants and the sessions flow well.
Scratch is a living legend, one of the most influential people in music and certainly the most influential person in my musical life. Each session we do I have to pinch myself. It’s a truly amazing experience.
[Part II of the interview with Dan Boyle will appear in this blog at the end of the month, stay tuned.]
- The original interview was recorded by Kelly “Eight For Eight” Maurice & Dan Boyle, Nov. 26, 2011
This is the first of hopefully many posts about all things from Scratch, musically and technologically as well as programmatically. More soon to come, stay tuned.